January 4, 2024

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Don’t Be Afraid To Try, With Rob Vigil

By: Gary Schoeniger
The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Rob Vigil | Entrepreneurial Leadership


Most city government workers, even though they have a keen eye on business, simply stay where they are and do not venture outside their comfort zone. What would it take for them to unlock their hidden entrepreneurial leadership skills? In this episode, host Gary Schoeniger sits down with Rob Vigil, a retired government worker in the City of Albuquerque. He looks back on his unlikely journey of becoming an entrepreneurial leader within city government, who now encourages others to take action on their entrepreneurial aspirations. Rob shares strategies for overcoming the sphere of failure, the power of constant micro-experimentation, and appreciating the importance of your opinions. 

Listen to the podcast here

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Don’t Be Afraid To Try, With Rob Vigil

I’m speaking with Rob Vigil, a now-retired city government worker who became an unlikely entrepreneur. If you’re like me, you might be thinking that a city government worker is probably the polar opposite of an entrepreneur. This episode might change your mind. After being voluntold to attend an entrepreneurial mindset course, Rob was reluctant to buy in.

After all, as a sanitation supervisor for the City of Albuquerque, he was encouraged to follow the rules and bide his time. A light bulb went off in his head, “What if I were to treat my position as if it were my business? What if I were to encourage others on my team to identify and solve problems as a way to increase engagement while also improving the services they provide?” That is exactly what he did.

Rob’s story truly exemplifies the power of entrepreneurial thinking, not only to empower ourselves but also to become more impactful leaders. By overcoming his fear of failure and embracing a willingness to try, he was able to impact his team by encouraging them to think like entrepreneurs. Without any further ado, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Rob Vigil.


Rob, welcome to the show.

Gary, how are you?

I’m doing great. I’m looking forward to having this conversation with you. My interactions with you back in 2015 helped shift my understanding of who can be entrepreneurial. More importantly, what you personally prove to me is that the entrepreneurial spirit is in everybody. Not everyone wants to start a business necessarily but people want to contribute, solve problems, and make an impact. They want to make a difference. Everybody has that.

We’re designed to be problem solvers, find a problem, and solve it as quickly as possible. Maybe some people realize that later in life. You hear the term born leader. For me, being in government, it was a little bit harder to realize that because of the environment they foster, “Show up, do your job, and move forward.”

“Don’t think too much. Do your job. Follow the rules.” That’s fair enough. For the audience, I want to set the story up here. In 2014, we got a call from the mayor of Albuquerque, and he wanted to teach city government workers how to think like entrepreneurs. I was like, “What do you want to do?” I was thinking like everybody thinks, “City government workers are the opposite of entrepreneurs.” I had that idea in my head, “I’m not sure I want you to use my program in this way.”

I was along the thinking that you had. My director at the time, Mr. John Soladay, approached me and said, “The City of Albuquerque has this program.” I was like, “Why? We’re doing fine.” Here’s a huge thank you to Mr. Soladay for pushing me to do that and also to my superintendent at the time Mr. Joseph Tafoya. They saw something in me, and they liked the direction of the program. I’m glad they forced me to do it. They voluntold me to do it.

I remember you told me that you were doing everything you could to let the instructor, Tom Darling, know you didn’t want to be there.

I sat on the back of the class. I had my arms folded. I’m thankful for Tom. He has been a big influence in my life. I haven’t been able to talk to him as much because I have since retired from the City of Albuquerque but I was excited to see his message come through and how you expressed that you wanted to catch back up with me. I’m grateful for Tom as well. I’m grateful for you. I was the student in the back of the class with my arms crossed, doodling on my paper and doing anything I could to not learn.

I was sitting in your office. I’ll never forget this. You said, “I’m not a classroom guy.” Do you remember saying those words? The reason that landed in my brain is I’m not a classroom guy either.

If you would talk to any of my teachers, they would say, “He’s not a classroom guy.” I wanted to be out having fun, driving around, and playing sports, anything other than sitting in a classroom but there comes a moment in your life where the light goes on. I don’t remember what class it was. It has been years since I was sitting in that classroom but the light bulb went on, and I’m thankful that it never went off.

Can you tell me about that light bulb moment? Tom was teaching the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program based on the book. You’re sitting in the back of the classroom with your arms folded, “I don’t want to be here.” You’re only half-paying attention. Do you remember what the light bulb moment was for you?

I remember Tom saying, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” That was the moment. I’ve lived my life so afraid of failing but also being labeled as a failure that I was skating on thin ice for 32 to 33 years of my life. I was afraid to be looked upon as a failure, negatively. I make the joke that I’m a psychologist’s dream because they would love to get in between my ears and see what makes me tick. Being raised the way I was, I was afraid to fail. Once I heard those words, I keyed in and  listened to Tom, and it kept playing in my mind, “You’re not trying, which then makes you a failure because you’re not even getting in the game.”

It’s like, “I have to get my butt in gear and get myself in the game.” I love baseball. I try to make as many analogies as I can in the baseball world. If you’re afraid to strike out, you won’t even get in the batter’s box, and you have to get in the batter’s box in life. There are going to be curve balls and fastballs thrown at you but if you’re afraid to swing the bat, then you’re not in the game. I don’t remember what lesson that was but I remember Tom saying, “You can’t be afraid to fail.” That snapped.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Rob Vigil | Entrepreneurial Leadership

Entrepreneurial Leadership: If you’re afraid to strike out, you won’t get in the batter’s box. Life will throw curveballs and fastballs at you. If you’re afraid to swing back, you are not in the game.


For the audience, your role at the time was a sanitation supervisor for the City of Albuquerque.

I was a residential collection supervisor. I had 12 drivers underneath me, and roughly each driver had on average 1,000 doors that they passed a day. My district and along with the 3  other districts and 2 recycling districts were responsible for 12,000 to 13,000 doors a day from Monday through Friday. That’s per district. You can do the math quickly. We’re taking care of a lot of people here in Albuquerque.

I hope this doesn’t offend. Who’s the crazy guy who says, “I want the sanitation supervisor to take a course in entrepreneurship.”

Richard Berry. He was Mayor Berry. I met him briefly. I didn’t get a chance to thank him for bringing the entrepreneurship program to the City of Albuquerque. It was a brief interaction but I’m thankful to him, Mr. John Soladay, and Mr. Tafoya. They’re the ones that said, “Let’s kick this off.”

It’s one thing if they wanted everybody at the top of the game or the law director but that was pretty bold thinking at least from my perspective to help shift my thinking. I also want to talk about something you said to me back in 2015. Before I get into that, I want to come back to something you said. You’re in an organization that rewards you for fitting in, going along, and not taking swings. You’re in an organization that’s rewarding you for not taking risks.

Let me first and foremost say thank you to the City of Albuquerque. I spent 27 years there. I’m very thankful for the City of Albuquerque, the constituents, and the taxpayers. I say that because I don’t want my next statement to come across as a slight to the City of Albuquerque but when you’re in government unionized work, the minimum is okay. To be honest, I was along that line of thinking. I started in August ’97 up until 2010 or so. Thirteen years of my life was, “I’m going to show up, punch the clock, do the minimum, go home, and collect the check.” No matter what happened, I was going to get paid.

I’m thankful for vacation leave, sick leave, and personal time off but there was no push for employees to be the better version of themselves. You would see it in small pockets but the line of thinking here in Albuquerque was, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” Unfortunately, that’s the way it is in a lot of organizations. I’m sure Albuquerque is not the only one that put up with that.

It took me 13 to 14 years to figure out I needed to make a change and figure out what my potential is, whatever that may be. A lot of people don’t know this but I was close to leaving the City of Albuquerque right around ’07 and ’08. I’m glad I got hired into residential at the time as a recycling curbside driver. Right around 2010 or 2011, I realized, “Something has to change, and I have to make it happen for myself.”

That was an a-ha moment in your life outside of the Ice House program where you realized you’re stagnating.

I have three kids. I have two boys and a daughter. I was driving to one of the practices. We have a basketball player, a football player, and a soccer player. They were involved with everything. This statement is not a slight to anyone. It was just my thinking. I didn’t want to retire as a driver. I wanted to leave my footprint on Solid Waste to the City of Albuquerque somehow. I didn’t know how to do that but it was a thing where I didn’t want to retire as a driver. I was thinking of a supervisor, superintendent, or associate director. I started having these long-range goals in my mind.

Part of that is I wanted better for my kids like a lot of people here in New Mexico with humble beginnings. My parents lived paycheck-to-paycheck, a month-to-month thing. I’m blessed that we’re in a position where my kids didn’t have to go through the things that I went through. There were times when I was working two jobs. I’m thankful for my parents, what they went through, and the work ethic they instilled in me. I didn’t want to retire as a residential driver. That was my end goal.

This is so interesting to me. I was writing this in my book. How do we get past the idea of entrepreneurship as a business discipline? There are billions of people in the world who are languishing. They’re not thriving. They’re not depressed but they’re stuck, and they don’t think of entrepreneurship mindset as a path or a framework that can accelerate and get people unstuck. That’s part of what your story’s about.

I can only speak about Solid Waste because that’s where I worked my whole career but I was able to meet people in Parks & Rec, the Department of Municipal Development, and the Water Authority. There are a lot of good people out there and a lot of good workers, and they can offer so much to their department but a lot of it is that fear of failing, “I don’t want to do something for myself as an entrepreneur under the umbrella of city government because all I have to do is the minimum.”

There are a lot of good workers out there, and they can offer so much to their own department. However, they are hindered by the fear of failing. Share on X

A hard thing to do is to step out of your comfort zone and try something different. There are a lot of layers to that. How do you get a small percentage of people who realize that there is something better as long as they get out of their comfort zone? That takes something, whatever their light bulb is. It may be kids or career aspirations.

It could be the life stage. To get out of your comfort zone, you have to get to the point where your comfort zone is uncomfortable. You got to this point where something is gnawing at you.

It’s the way that I’m wired. I’ve left city government, and I did probably two months of zero, doing nothing.

That got old quickly.

I’m thankful for my wife. I try to remind her daily that I’m thankful for her because I work a lot. There was a lot of overtime. There were a lot of Saturday games that I missed. There were a lot of practices where she jumped in, and she had to be in three places at the same time. I’m super thankful for her. The way that I’m wired is that I have to be moving. Once you tap into that, then it’s going to send you into a different career path. That’s why a lot of people are afraid to step out because they’re good garbage men but they could be great park developers or street designers, fixing something in IT, or whatever their natural bend is. Solid Waste is a good job, and it’s hard to leave that to try something even if you want to do it.

The good becomes the enemy of the great. That’s what you’re saying. I remember you also said to me that when the light bulb came on in Tom Darling’s class, you said to yourself, “I have twelve guys working underneath me. I could handle myself like a business owner. The taxpayers are our customers.” Do you remember that thought process?

We have twelve residential drivers per district, and they each have an assigned route. Solid Waste is unique in that we need a business model where we need repeat customers. We have them. They’re there. There’s a level of customer service that we have to provide but why can’t they treat their routes like their business? Why can’t I give them the latitude to treat their 1,000 customers per day the way they want to?

There is a box that they have to operate in. You can’t start giving away free service but we do work for the people of Albuquerque. Do what you need to do so that your route is a reflection of you, which is a reflection of me, which is a reflection of Solid Waste, and then the City of Albuquerque because too many times, all city workers are lazy, they don’t do anything. All they do is hold up shovels. That’s the stigma we got here, which isn’t true.

Later on in my career, I was in charge of the commercial division. At one point, I was in charge of 12 guys in residential and then 12 guys in commercial. They’re some solid human beings, very good people, great fathers, great husbands, great brothers, and great sons. I can go on and on. I told him, “Go out there and treat your route like it’s your business. It’s driver A’s business. As long as nothing is going to bubble to the top, then do that.”

“If you get yourself in a switch or a bind that may hit the director’s desk, you need to let me know, and I’ll back you as far as I can as long as it’s not illegal.” Those 12 guys in residential and 12 guys in commercial looked at me like, “What are you saying?” Some people took it as I didn’t want to work and be involved, which was not the case. I was trying to empower my guys to go out and make decisions based on what they were thinking. Let’s see what shakes out.

Some of those guys have since been promoted. I don’t know if it’s directly because of my thought process or the empowerment that I gave them. Guys have retired. I like to think that I planted a little bit of seed, “It’s okay to go out, try this thing, and see how it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean anything other than your plan didn’t work. Let’s look at it again. You have another 1,000 customers tomorrow. We could try it again and again.”

It is okay to try something and see how it works. If your plan fails, try again. Share on X

What you’re saying is that this exposure to the entrepreneurial mindset gave you the idea that this could be a path forward for you. I don’t want to put this in too geeky of a term but it’s the self-actualizing tendency. All humans have that. You walk outside and see a little plant trying to grow up out of the asphalt. It’s the same thing. It’s in humans. You had that epiphany yourself but what’s even more interesting to me is that you said, “It’s in my guys also.”

Here’s what I didn’t like as a leader of men, “Boss, do you mind?” The call I would always get would be, “This customer had a birthday party. They have some extra trash. How do you feel about that?” Give them an extra dump. Explain the rules to them and why we don’t do that consistently because we would be giving out free service to everyone. These little bumps in the road give them a chance to see you. You can relay some of our ordinances and rules. At the end of the day, you take care of the customer, and that’s what each small business is after. We want customers to be happy with our product.

Once, I told them, “What do you think about this?” “I would probably do it this one time.” “Do that and let me know.” These positive notes came flooding in. I don’t think I got as many of them as I should have. I would do these customer callbacks, and they would say, “Your driver John is a standup guy. He helped me out. I wasn’t aware of some of the things that Solid Waste offers. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.”

I would give that right back to John. He has been here for years. He’s a great guy. To me, it’s empowering people around you. Try what you want to try, and if it doesn’t work, that’s what I’m here for. I will always back you. If it works, you’re going to get all the credit because it was your idea, and if it doesn’t work, then I’ll shoulder that because that’s the job I signed on for.

“I was encouraging you to try these things.”

Here’s where I use the government unionized. At the end of the day, what’s going to happen? Chances are they’re not going to get fired. There may be a conversation later down the road, “Why did you do A, B, and C? I understand that but you understand X, Y, and Z.” “I didn’t think about it that way.” “No problem. Going forward, you keep your mistakes small and continue to lean into them. How would you tackle this? What would you do?” Some guys say, “I got it.” There are some guys that were rocks, and they were getting close to the end of their career, “Leave me alone. I want to do my route. No big deal.” That’s fine but to see a good handful of guys say, “I’m going to run with this thing,” was a good thing.

It’s so interesting from a psychology perspective. The need for purpose and meaning in our lives is one of the most powerful needs. We have psychological needs. You have the need to feel like you are contributing in some meaningful way but it’s not the need for food or shelter. When you’re cold, you know it. When you’re hungry, you know it but the need for meaning and purpose isn’t as obvious. That’s what you are demonstrating when you’re encouraging these guys because they’re not getting paid any more for doing a little bit extra for the customer. It’s not going to result in any immediate economic benefit but they get to go home at the end of the day feeling better about themselves. Do you think that’s what’s going on there?

If you were able to talk to some of those guys, they would be sure to tell you, “Rob made some mistakes.” I was living that also and saying, “I have a boss who has a boss. I need to make sure what I’m doing with my guys. If it hits my superintendent’s desk, is that going to be okay?” I was trying to lead up as well. Here’s what I found in my time in a leadership role. Monetarily things matter but the way people feel trumps that. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have people making minimum wage doing what they do. To some degree, they feel valued for their contribution. There are probably some people at Fortune 500 companies who don’t feel valued but they’re making $500,000 a year.

For me, it was realizing that my drivers were fathers, husbands, sons, and employees. They make up a lot of things. My job is to make sure that they walk out of the gate happy. People’s happiness is not my job. If you’re waiting for me to make sure that you have a good day, you’re going to be let down but it’s my job as a leader to make you feel valued and empowered. Your thoughts and your opinions matter. That’s what worked for me. When they walked out of the gate, they didn’t feel minimized. They didn’t feel like they weren’t heard. To further your point, it’s the way that they felt after dealing with me, whether that was positive or negative. I still had to do my job but once you explain why you’re doing stuff, then it’s like, “I got it.”

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Rob Vigil | Entrepreneurial Leadership

Entrepreneurial Leadership: A leader’s job is to make the team feel valued and empowered. They must feel that their thoughts and opinions matter.


The other aspect of your story that’s interesting is that what you were encouraging is what we call micro-experimenting. Try things on a small scale and see what works. That way, there’s a learning that occurs from the failure. Whether you know it or not, that’s what you were encouraging. Micro experimenting is a feedback loop. It’s the same way an organism learns in unfamiliar terrain. You try things on a small scale, and if it doesn’t work, you don’t die. It’s nothing catastrophic but you got this little feedback loop, “This worked. Let’s try it again. Let’s see if I can get the same results again.”

To go back to your original comment about not swinging the bat, that’s what the entrepreneurial mindset is all about. You have to preserve the core of what you’re doing. The idea that entrepreneurs mortgage their houses, quit their jobs, and go all in is mostly a myth. I’ve interviewed 500 or 600 entrepreneurs like you all over the world. They don’t quit their day job. They’re out on the edges of their lives, experimenting. They’re trying things on a small scale to see what works. That’s what your story embodies. Keep the train running on time. You have this core responsibility but if you’re not out on the edges, taking some little percentage of your thought processes, your time, and your effort to experiment, you’re not growing.

An old mentor of mine told me, “Let’s not be moss.” Moss is because of still water. Still water is not moving. That’s always stuck with me. It’s the thing. Try it and see what happens. If it’s going to be a monumental decision, you have to run that through me, I have to run that through my boss, and we have to make sure that nothing hits the news here but give it a whirl and see what happens.

I talk to entrepreneurs, “I want to open a restaurant. I need $250,000.” You don’t. You need a hot plate and a popup tent. I interviewed entrepreneurs who did that. They kept their day jobs and went on weekends to local craft fairs and whatnot. They perfected the recipe, got customer feedback, and started to build a reputation. Three years later, they had saved up enough money to open their restaurant, and now they already have the reputation. It’s guaranteed to be successful.

They don’t try it on a smaller level. Unfortunately, I see it all the time here in Albuquerque. They have great ideas or great business models but they started too big. The menu is too big. They make good tamales but now they’re doing hamburgers and all this other stuff. You miss the mark on what you were called to do, and that’s to make good tamales or whatever it is. You start trying all this other stuff. You try it on a small level and see what you’re good at. If it doesn’t work, take that off the menu thing. Let’s get back to our North, and that’s different for everyone. Let’s stick with what works.

There are so many important lessons here. The light bulb comes on for you in Tom Darling’s class. You told me that was a few weeks in, maybe a third of the way through the class. It wasn’t right away but the light bulb came on for you. What did you do immediately? What were the conversations like when you were going back to your job? How did that unfold?

Immediately with my district, I was starting to think. I’ve been trying to listen to keywords. Who’s asking about upward mobility, career ladder, and getting better? I had 12 guys but not all 12 guys were interested in moving up. They wanted more money but they may not have wanted a new title. They were happy with working overtime, which is okay. I started listening, “What did you do? Are there any classes I can take?” I was looking for these keywords, and what I found out in my experience was out of those 12 guys, 2 or 3 guys were interested in moving up. 1 or 2 of those guys were interested in not only moving up but also doing what it took. Only one guy did it. He was interested in what it took, and then he did it. He’s a supervisor. His name is John. You have to have a lay of the land with your employees.

Not everyone is going to buy in.

Seventy-five percent of my employees might have been interested. I have to worry about the 25%. If you’re talking about three people, there are some people who are going to say, “Only three people? I have 500 people under me.” The numbers still work. You’re going to have 100 people who are interested, 50 who are interested and want to do it, and then 25 who will do all three. The math still works.

“You have to go to this class. You have to do this. When I’m on vacation, you’re going to be upgraded and take these calls. Here’s payroll,” but it’s not everything at once. It was told to me, “You don’t drink water out of a fire hose.” When me and John would talk, I would give him these little projects, “Tell me the truth. Think about this. What would you do here?” He got it and ran with it. It took him some time to get promoted but that wasn’t his timing. Other guys were looking and seeing, “I want to do that thing.” “Here’s what I need from you. I need you to look at this. How would you tackle overtime and route restructure?”

Once the people who wanted it realized how much work it took, they backed off but there were some other people around the department who were saying, “I like that. How could I use that in my field?” They weren’t drivers. We had service reps and account reps. It was cool to see how leaning into one person cob-webbed out to other people. For those who say, “I have 500 people, how do I figure this out?” If you get 10 people to buy in, those 10 people can affect 1,000 people or maybe another 10, and it goes down the line.

Sociologists have studied how new ideas are adopted in a group, and your numbers match it. 13% or 14% will initially buy in. They call them early adopters. You’re working with the early adopters, and then there’s an early majority. If you think of a bell curve, the early majority will get interested over time watching those early adopters advance. They need more social proof. They won’t buy in right away. Your experience maps that pretty well.

I use going to the gym as an analogy. Everyone wants to go to the gym on January 1, a lot of people do. By February 1, they’re like, “Well.” There’s an even smaller percentage that is still there in July. If you map out the trajectory of someone interested, wants to do it, and then does it, it takes about 6 to 8 months for them to get some traction and say, “I have an interview at this other department. How do you feel about it? What are some things I should be looking for?”

You get those snickers from other people, “Why him?” It’s because he took advantage. I gave everyone the same opportunity, and now we lost an employee to a promotion. That’s a good thing. It may have hurt me selfishly but what we need to do is replace ourselves and train people below us to replace us because if we’re hoarding all the information, the tips, and the tricks, that’s not good leadership.

I’ll go out and say it because if you don’t have 3 or 4 people who are trained to do your job, I would question your leadership style personally because you have to build up your team. I’m not infinite. I’ve been gone from the City of Albuquerque for eight months. There’s a guy doing my job. The question becomes, “Did I train him the right way? Did I show him the tips and tricks and how he can put his spin on it?” Especially within the government, it’s delicate but in the private sector, I can see how that can take off big time.

If leaders hoard all the information, tips, and tricks, that is not good leadership. If you don’t have several people trained to do their job, you cannot build up your team. Share on X

When did you become interested in leadership?

I read a book by Andy Stanley, and it was talking about leadership. A lot of that was because I wanted to be a better boss than what I have throughout my career. I started working when I was fourteen. I couldn’t even tell you some of my bosses’ names. I started at a fast food joint, went into a grocery, and then I got into the city. I’ve had some good bosses and not-so-good bosses. I’ll put it that way. I didn’t want to be looked upon, “That guy was horrible.” I wanted to effect change somehow.

Andy Stanley is someone that I look up to from a communication standpoint and a leadership standpoint. Once you read Andy Stanley, then you get into these other authors. You have John Maxwell and Craig Groeschel. It’s a thing where you pick off of these guys, what works, and what doesn’t, and try little things or these micro experiments. I wanted to be someone that the guys wanted to follow.

If I asked them, “Let’s go through this brick wall,” they would know that I would be in the front saying, “Let’s go through the brick wall,” but I had twelve guys behind me because I didn’t want to be that guy who was a bad boss that was disinterested and didn’t care. I wanted to be the boss that I didn’t have. I looked at a bunch of different avenues, “How do I get there?”

What was the name of the book?

Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change and then John Maxwell’s The 360-Degree Leader.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Rob Vigil | Entrepreneurial Leadership

Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication

What I’m hearing you say is an expression. I say this a lot to people. When you zoom out and look at an entrepreneurial person, and I would characterize you as such, all you’re seeing is a human organism trying to self-actualize. I think of it like this. We’re all acorns. We all have the capacity and the desire to become a mighty oak tree but we need the right conditions. We need the right balance of soil, sunlight, and water to make that happen. As human beings, we need autonomy and some freedom. We need to become competent. We need to develop some competency in something in our ability to navigate life. We need purpose.

That’s what your story embodies. The Ice House program came to you at the right place at the right time. Your comfort zone was no longer comfortable. That’s why so many underdogs become entrepreneurs because they don’t have alternatives. Your level of dissatisfaction with the status quo is what spurs people to be entrepreneurial because if everything is going well, there’s no reason to. If you have a formula that’s working, you feel satisfied, you’re well-paid, and you feel a sense of purpose and meaning in what you’re doing, keep doing it. Don’t change it.

I love movies, especially ’80s movies. Me and a good friend of mine were talking about how too many people in general have a woobie. I believe it’s Mr. Mom with Michael Keaton, and he’s talking to the little boy, “It’s time for bed.” He goes, “I need my woobie.” “You don’t. Aren’t you a big boy?” I’m talking about that in terms of the movie. Big boys don’t need woobies. His woobie was his blanket, a teddy bear, or something but the analogy holds true in life.

What is keeping you comfortable that is not allowing you to get out and grow? It could be a Solid Waste job, which is a great job, but try another department or entity. You could be working for a company in the IT department but you want to be on grounds maintenance because you have a knack. You’re a green thumb. Try that thing. Get out from underneath your woobie.

I don’t mean this in any way to the audience. Grow up and realize your purpose because everyone knows their purpose. Everyone knows what they want to do, “How do I get out from underneath my warm and cozy blanket, get out into the cold, and try to get this thing?” Granted, it’s a scary place to be when you get out from underneath your warm and cozy blanket but it is so worth it. It’s going to be mountain tops, valleys, and everything in between.

I could sit here as a very proud man saying that I retired from the City of Albuquerque’s Solid Waste Department. I’ve met some good people. I’ve made some good friends. There are people in positions of leadership. Maybe they used me as a bad example or a good example but I leaned into these guys and  told them, “Try it, give it a whirl, throw your woobie away, and see what happens.” To be fair, it is scary to be in class with Tom Darling. He was challenging you, and it felt like he was challenging me. In essence, he was saying, “Throw away your woobie or your warm blanket. Get out there and see what happens.”

That’s a great story. I might have gotten my wires crossed here but I remember somebody in Albuquerque in the city government saying you started using the word Ice House like a verb, “Let’s Ice-House this problem.”

That may have been senior staff vernacular because, at the time, I was in supervision but I wasn’t quite in senior staff yet. They may have said that. I wasn’t as privy to a lot of communication with Mayor Berry and upper-level staff as I was toward the end but I wouldn’t doubt it. There were a lot of people who took the class and liked it.

You don’t have a position of authority, power, and resources. How can you solve the problems in front of you? That’s what Ice House is about. What do you do in spite of it? That’s what it comes down to. What are you going to do now that you’re retired? What the heck are you doing?

I’m close to 45 years old. I’m still a big kid at heart. I love trucks. I love the big yellow pieces of machinery. A good friend of mine is now the owner. His dad started it but now he’s the principal owner of a family-owned construction business here. I still have my CDL. I drive for him a tandem dump truck on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. I’m starting to pivot. I’m going to go four days a week because I can’t play as much golf as I want to. I’m spoiled. If it’s not 65, I’m not even considering it. My boys are telling me all the time, “Let’s go.” I’m like, “It’s 58.”

I get to operate a little bit. I’m driving a little bit. I’m learning more about the dirt work in the private sector. I’m trying to learn from him as best as I can. I tried it for two months. I couldn’t sit around. My wife, God bless her heart, works from home. She’s in banking. Some of my buddies still call me, and I’m loud. We joke around a lot, and I don’t want to interrupt her but it’s my personality. I’m a driver personality. I’m goal-oriented and results-driven. I wanted to get out and do something.

Thankfully, I could help out. He’s my best friend. He’s a sharp guy. I’m hoping I’m rubbing off on him. It’s a little bit different when the family name is on the t-shirt to let people be who they’re going to be because that is an immediate real-world repercussion or consequence. It’s a business where you need those repeat customers. I’m trying to fill that void. How do we build up these guys below us so that they can take care of the higher-end things?

I’ve only been working for him for 3 days a week for 3 or 4 months, somewhere around there. I’m getting my feet wet but I don’t want to get in the deep end quite yet. I’m happy where I’m at. It’s all about the schedule now. He’s a great boss. I like having 3 days off or sometimes 4. He gives me latitude, “I need to stay off.” I’ll play golf, go fishing, or do whatever. I’m still itching to do something. I don’t know what yet.

I can see that twitch in your eye. With all seriousness, this conversation is helpful to me, and I’m learning so much from you. I want to tell you that I’m working on this idea that will be in my new book about a concept I’ll call entrepreneurial leadership. That’s what your story embodies to me. It’s you seeing the entrepreneurial potential in others but also creating the space. The train is running on time. You have to deliver what you’re already doing but you’re giving people the space and the margins to experiment and to try new things. Your story embodies that.

The way I think about entrepreneurship is way bigger than people owning businesses. To me, it’s all about human potential. That’s what your story is. It not only helped you to see potential in yourself but also how to create the environment that taps into it in others. One of the takeaways I have from this conversation is to think about how many organizations, let alone city governments and for-profit companies where people are languishing, and the organization suffers because they’re not getting that person’s full capacity. The individual is suffering because they’re going home at the end of the day not feeling like they made a contribution. That’s an emptiness.

I believe what you’re teaching works in real-world applications, and I’m going to take that a little bit further. I’ve told all three of my kids, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” If you use the entrepreneurial mindset in your home, think about the difference that it will make. My oldest is 23, my middle son is 22, and my little girl is 19. They’re all productive members of society. They’re all working and contributing somehow. My thing when I get to talk to them is, “Keep your mistakes small. How did that work out for you? Go ahead and try it.” Especially now with the younger generation, everything is quick and social media-driven.

There’s an immediate gratification.

They’re living their lives 10 to 15 seconds at a time with the socials. They have to be on all the time but when you put the phone down, what does that look like? Can I do this thing, whatever that may be? My middle son worked at a grocery store and foreign airlines. He’s an apprentice but he’s figuring this out. My oldest son worked at a golf course. He’s at a screenprinting business now. He’s figuring it out. My daughter is a barber, and she’s killing it. She has aspirations, “I want my shop. I want to do this stuff.”

I may not have told them what I learned in entrepreneurial class but I showed them through my actions because, like a lot of people here in New Mexico, I shouldn’t have made it. I should have been a statistic. I was raised in Northern New Mexico in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The environment I grew up in was tough. It was brutal. I lost some good friends at a young age but I stepped out of that.

I lived the Entrepreneurial Mindset Program even though I didn’t know it. It may have been that when I was in Tom’s class, that was the light bulb that went on. I’ve been doing this for my whole life. I’ve been adapting and overcoming. That may have been the culmination of my life. I’m 34 or 35 years old, and I’m sitting in this class that I don’t want to be in but Tom summed up my life with one sentence, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” It was like, “I have to do this. What about this?”

The car was idle for so long. Now, I could push the gas, “Let’s go.” I may not have taught them verbatim what I was doing in life but I would like to think that they saw the entrepreneurial class. That’s my takeaway. From a fatherhood perspective, this works in the business world but how does it work in parenting, being an uncle, being an auntie, or being a mom?

Too many times, we tell our children, “Don’t do this thing.” It’s okay to let them scrape their knees. Try it. See what happens. You don’t want them jumping off a roof into a pool or something like that but take the training rules off. Once we take the training rules off in our career and try these things in micro experiments, and we’re not afraid to fail because it doesn’t mean we’re failures, we can change our homes, our businesses, our city, and eventually our country.

Take the training wheels off and try things through micro-experiments. Do not be afraid to fail because it won’t mean you are a failure. Share on X

It took me a long time to figure this out but I define entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunity to create value for others. By creating value for others, you can empower yourself. It’s almost counterintuitive because we’re all going through life and trying to get our needs met. We never stop to think, “How can I add value to others?”

It’s counterintuitive but it’s a source of power that’s available to anyone. It took me 30 years to figure it out. You can have your job as an apprentice electrician or in a hair salon and adopt that attitude. It’s up to me to figure out how to maximize my usefulness to other humans in whatever situation I’m in. That’s what you took away from the Ice House course if I’m hearing you properly.

At the end of the day, it’s up to me. Whoever is reading this, it’s up to you. You have to put your foot on the ground and say, “I don’t want the status quo. I don’t want to be average, whatever that may be.” Even if you lived your life and tried these new things, think about that story. I tried fly fishing, dirt biking, a cooking class, or whatever your natural bend is.

What I don’t want when I’m on my deathbed is to say, “I wish I would have learned how to fly fish or cook.” I want people to look at me and say, “He made a ton of mistakes but he made mistakes doing what he wanted to do. He eventually got it right, or he didn’t but he’s out there trying.” He’s not in his lane saying, “I’m good with being average.” I’m not good at being average.

I don’t want to be average in any aspect of my life. I’m not good at golfing but I want to be a good golfer. I want to be a good dad. I want to be a good husband. I want to be great at being a husband, dad, and grandfather when that time comes. I say this gently because I don’t want to take a shot at anyone. I don’t want to be looked at as someone who wasted their opportunity because I do have a talent and an ability to reach people, and I want to let people know that they can do it.

I have a high school diploma. That’s it. I took one semester of college. I don’t even like school. It was free. I don’t even know why I paid for it and tried it but I did that. I retired from a government entity, and I’m going to get a pension check for the rest of my life. I’ve influenced some people. I may have rubbed people wrong in other areas but that’s okay because that’s me. I’m a driver personality.

I burn hot. I want to get to the end of the task. The people who are with me are with me, and I don’t mean that as isolated, “It’s my group against your group.” It’s not that. There are people who are built like me. They want to get on the train, “Let’s go. I don’t want to be the conductor forever. I want you to be the conductor. I want to enjoy the view,” which is what I’m doing now. I’m enjoying the view.

I interviewed a guy. The guy started as a pizza delivery boy. He owns seven pizza shops now. He’s a multimillionaire. It’s the same attitude you said. He said to me, “When I started, I wanted to be a millionaire. I realized that’s not important to me. I blew right past being a millionaire. It’s about developing other people, bringing people up behind me, and giving other people opportunities.” There’s that pro-social aspect of it. Putting people first is one of the core things I keep hearing in these stories from entrepreneurial people. It’s not about profit or the bottom line efficiency.

In the government, we are a nonprofit. There was no monetary benefit. I was going to get paid for 80 hours no matter what, whether I developed 10 people, I developed 1 person, or I didn’t develop anyone, but what’s the way that they felt when they went home? How are they treating their wives now? How are they treating their kids now? How are they affecting their neighborhood, if at all?

As a leader, that was my job to make sure that they were valued and empowered, and I will back them. What they do with that is up to them. It’s not my job to fish out someone’s potential. You have to realize that you have potential, look across the room, and see, “Who’s in the position that I want to be? How can I learn from them?” There are some good supervisors within the City of Albuquerque that have a lot to offer. People need to ask, “How did you get to where you are at?” “I did A, B, and C. I did this.” The common theme for a lot of them is, “I got out on the edge, I got out on the fringe, and I tried these things.” That’s mainly what your class is teaching. I benefited from it, and I appreciate it.

Rob, thanks so much for taking the time out for me. I greatly appreciate this. I don’t know how to thank you. It’s an amazing story. It shifted my mindset about the entrepreneurial potential that lies hidden in our organizations and our communities that we’re not getting to. It’s right there. It’s hiding in plain sight.

I would say this to any leaders who are reading this. Look at your people. You have good people under you. For the people who may be a little afraid, you have to try it. You have to get out there because life is so rewarding on the other side. Even if you try, and it doesn’t go your way, another door may open somewhere else. Life is so good when you’re in the lane of purpose. I can’t speak enough about it.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Rob Vigil | Entrepreneurial Leadership

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Even if things don’t go your way, another door may open somewhere else. Life is so good when you are in your lane of purpose.


Gary, thank you for your class and our talks. It reenergizes me a little bit to know that a kid from Las Vegas, New Mexico is talking with Gary Schoeniger, and I affected one person. That’s a humbling experience. I want to thank you and Tom for everything that you did for me. You helped me climb the ranks through the City of Albuquerque. I’m forever indebted to you and Tom. Whatever you need and whatever it takes to help you out, I’m into it.

Thank you so much, Rob. I appreciate it.


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